The Best Songs of 2020
These are the bangers that got us through such an odd year.
Any given year, new music is what defines our seasons—giving us something to cozy up to in the wintertime, and party to in the summertime. In 2020, though, there was perhaps no greater companion than the music that came out, since—aside from the great new shows we were bingeing to fill our time or the movies we were lucky to catch at home—it was what many used to cope or throw their own dance parties in our living rooms during the pandemic. There may not have been many live events or the typical album rollout for artists, but both pop stars and up-and-comers still delivered hits to keep people jamming (or give them a soundtrack to cry to). Below, find the 75 best songs of 2020 that managed to bring some excitement, goodness, and support to this unprecedented year.
"Lifeline," A.G. Cook
A.G. Cook had a big year. The 2010s were also big for him, since he founded the collective/experimental label PC Music in 2013 and released many records beloved by arty, weirdo pop communities like works from Charli XCX, SOPHIE, and others. 2020 was his year, though, as he finally released a ton of music under his own name, including a four disc album and a more traditional LP, Apple. That doesn't mean it sounds traditional, though: "Lifeline" wraps up Apple and is a genre-less hodgepodge of pop perfection. Repeating the melodramatic verse "You are my lifeline" in altered vocals over a dark, kinetic beat, the track could easily pass for the remix of a Myspace pop-punk band's hit single. The producer is a master at his craft, and making it weirder and more interesting than the rest in the game.
On his Limbo track "Woodlawn," rapper Aminé declares he's come "along way from that Woodlawn Park," or the Portland neighborhood he grew up in with his Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrant family. Considering he sounds like a blazing star on the stylish, breezy song, his assessment isn't far off. It's not just that the track has a certain swagger that highlights his ability to deliver rhymes that are as witty as they are sexy, it really is a sharp homage to where he's been and where he's going. Referencing Kobe Bryant's death as a reckoning as his own coming-of-age, the fact that he's helping out his mom with rent and played the track through the phone to his friend who's incarcerated, that Woodlawn Park is still a part of him even if he's driving past it in his new fancy car.
"Watch," Arca, Shygirl
Venezuelan producer Arca's songs don't always sound like songs. Instead the FKA Twigs and Kanye-approved collaborator makes what can only be described as avant garde sonic booms. With that in mind, you can guess her take on the party track is a bit unconventional—but it gets the job done, amping up the rager even more so—like her KiCK i song with London-based singer/producer Shygirl, "Watch." Maximalist and jittery, with Shygirl exuding a coolness, repeating "I'm too hot for the night," it's a blitz of everything that a club night should be: flirtatious, flashy, and wild.
"Safaera," Bad Bunny (feat. Jowell & Randy, Nengo Flow)
Puerto Rican trap artist Bad Bunny has become one of the most promising superstars (and the biggest sweetheart) across the globe. He's gone from go-to featured artist on tracks to releasing four great LPs in less than two years, including his this year's YHLQMDLG. His 2018 debut X100PRE may have been an evocative statement piece, but YHLQMDLG is a rager through and through. "Safaera" is one of the many fine examples of this, and shows what the Latin innovator is capable of. He pulls together a roster of fellow Puerto Rican rappers and lights up an intense, smoky production based around a meandering Missy Elliot sample. You can just tell there's nothing like a party hosted by Conejo Malo.
"Mustang," Bartees Strange
For some, the urge to escape your hometown—to get out of there as fast as you can and never turn back—is overwhelming, and eventually it propels you the hell out of there. No song captures that energy as much as alternative artist Bartees Strange's "Mustang," about his feelings towards Mustang, Oklahoma, the town where he spent much of his youth and was one of the few Black residents. It's arena rock that's unlike anything you've ever heard, his smoky voice an excellent pairing for both the track's emo guitars and '80s synths. It's bursting with his anger at a place that boxed him in and held him back, but one listen and there's no doubt that this original talent was ever going to stay stuck.
Last year, 20-year-old Beatrice Laus of beabadoobe declared on a single that she wished she was Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus. This year, the protégé of The 1975's Matty Healy churned out her full-length debut, and while it's obviously not a Pavement album, it cements her as an alt-rock name to watch, and sounds much like something from a kid who feels born in the wrong generation in a way that's lovely and sincere. "Care" opens the record, starting off dreamy before it pummels into an angsty chorus. Even in the anger, it's playful, since she knows that even though someone wronged her in the past, the experience has since helped her to grow. It's the kind of song you wish had been released when you were in high school, so you could drive off to it when you were in a mood after class.
"Rearview," Beach Bunny
Chicago band Beach Bunny is the former bedroom project of frontwoman Lili Trifilio, and recently they blew up, finding success on TikTok. If you're familiar with the group, this shouldn't come as a surprise because their emo power pop is full of exhilarating melodies and lyrics that examine the pressures of girlhood. Their debut album Honeymoon dropped this year, and while it's mostly pure, assured love songs, one of its best tracks is the stripped back "Rearview." Over a guitar that flutters like heart palpitations, Trifilio reflects on how she was made to feel less than in a now defunct relationship. It's as if she's regretfully realizing her heart is still in it—and the way she delivers these words in mourning nearly destroys you. (That catch in her voice when she sings, "You loved me / I love you / You don't love me anymore / I still do," is too damn much!). You can picture her monologuing these words to herself in the mirror, and losing herself to a fit of rage as the song ends in a raucous bout of exuberance. We all know and can feel these emotions.
"Fuck The World (Summer in London)," Brent Faiyaz
R&B has a long history of exploring romance, intimacy, and desire. There's definitely a new class of young R&B crooners today, but in singing about love they're also now tasked with covering messy millennial dating politics like being left on read. Singer Brent Faiyaz is one of the best of this kind: His milky voice will make you swoon while he delivers brutally blunt lines about his sex life and crave for connection. The title track from his latest album, Fuck the World, smolders with hazy, echoic vocals as the singer lays out his innermost desires. The production is immaculate, slowing down his voice, which relays thoughts so honest they read like posts you might find on an Instagram account meant to shade shitty fuck boys by posting screenshots of the texts they send. It's a masterclass in R&B for 2020.
"Deadlines (Thoughtful)," Car Seat Headrest
Almost every relationship chronicled in a Car Seat Headrest song seems doomed to fail. But, hey, there's a reason frontman Will Toledo has become indie rock's golden boy representing sad people everywhere. Bleak as his music may be, he's able to make something immensely poignant out of that despair. The Making a Door Less Open track "Deadlines (Thoughtful)" is yet another song from the band about a love that's tempting but forbidden, and wanting to succumb to it just once. Toledo's stammering in the chorus ("Am I, am I, am I, am I on your mind") and the crisp, cumulative percussion is erratic and explosive, just like his distress that won't subside.
"WAP," Cardi B (feat. Megan Thee Stallion)
No song garnered as many reactions, memes, and headlines this year as "WAP." That's just the power of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, though: These ladies are going to say whatever the hell they want, and it will be a banger. An unhinged anthem from the rappers, the way they detail their sexual fantasies celebrates women's sexuality as lewd and liberated as it ought to be. While critics of the song might cover their ears, sound the alarms, and disagree with that, it's hard not to admit that this one really is a riot with incredible rhymes like "get a bucket and a mop" and "macaroni in a pot." Whether they're forbearers of the latest wave of feminism or not, the song goes hard regardless, and thank goodness the beat takes a backseat so we can hear the genius verses they've written. It's iconic, period.
"Anthems," Charli XCX
"Anthems" may as well be the anthem of 2020. It's conceived of the moment, being one of the songs off Charli XCX's amazing quarantine album How I'm Feeling Now—which was written and recorded over six weeks during lockdown—and sounds as perfect as experimental pop today could be. Over a joyful DIY gem of an electronic beat, she drones on about the mundane activities that occupy her quarantine ("Wake up late, eat some cereal / Try my best to be physical / Lose myself in a TV show"), before conceding to feelings of loneliness and shamelessly just wanting to see her friends and get shitfaced. In many ways, it's how many of us are feeling. But bless Charli for giving us a goddamn jam where we can feel it all, and for a brief moment envision ourselves back on that sweaty dance floor she's yearning for.
"Claws," Charli XCX
Charli XCX is infamous for throwing epic house parties, and she must really miss this year. That didn't stop her from churning out banger upon banger, though, including this ecstatic collaboration with Dylan Brady of experimental electro duo 100 Gecs. "Claws" girlishly laments liking everything about somebody, and it sounds just as intoxicating as that feels with its metallic beat. The track ends up sounding like it's malfunctioning, as if being infatuated with someone is too overwhelming, but it's a sugary sweet in all of the madness.
"Gaslighter," The Chicks
In 2003, America doused then-reigning country stars The Chicks in kerosene and said good riddance after they came out against George Bush and the Iraq war. Conservatives basically gaslit them, one of the few women-led country groups at the time, into obscurity. While they continued making music for some time, followed by a hiatus, they eventually rose from the ashes and returned this year with the angry, uplifting "Gaslighter." Not only is it reassuring to hear from Natalie Maines, Martie Erwin Maguire, and Emily Strayer again, the song radiates a hopeful warmth in the face of adversity. Years ago they were "Not Ready to Make Nice," and bless them for sticking to their guns, because now with lyrics like, "Gaslighter, you broke me / You're sorry, but where's my apology? / Gaslighter, you liar," they're offering up a much-needed anthem of righteous catharsis.
"Baby Girl," Chloe x Halle
"Do it for the girls," Chloe x Halle sing on their Ungodly Hour track "Baby Girl." And, well, the R&B sister duo did it for the girls—doing what they had to do, as they say—with this empowerment anthem. The emerging stars have long had their names attached to their collaborators—and for good reason, they were discovered by Beyoncé—but their independent talent cannot be ignored. Chloe produced the song herself, creating a chic take on the night out song that manages to bubble like the champagne you imagine popping while celebrating with friends. Their complimentary duet expresses that while it may be intimidating once you're grown, ultimately, "it's your world." It's a sweet, uplifting track, and their angelic voices cradle you into believing the world can be as full of love as they see it.
"People, I've been sad," Christine and the Queens
"You know the feeling"—being sad, that is, as Héloïse Letissier (a.k.a. Christine and the Queens) sings on "People, I've been sad." The English/French electro pop song dissects the emotion and how she's been there "for way too long," while thoughtfully parsing apart how she's also retreated to ennui like an attraction she can't help. It's a stunning release from the French experimentalist, and the production is just as striking as the lyrics. The gentle strings in combination with the atmospheric drum machine create a place of isolation that's both icy and comfortable, like the cold familiarity of slipping back into a depressive episode. We hope one of the most creative indie pop acts today isn't sad anymore, but you can hear in the way her voice reaches that she's offering reassurance she's right here with you when you're down.
"Pussy Talk," City Girls (feat. Doja Cat)
"Boy, this pussy talk English, Spanish, and French," has got to be one of the best lines—certainly the best opener—of any song this year. And every verse that follows is just as rich, coming from the excellent Miami-based rap duo City Girls. Both equating their performance in the bedroom to the finer things in life and deserving of only the most lavish things that money can buy, from Bentleys to Birkins, the track is a sassy hit begging to be sung by hotties non-stop en route to the club and again on the dance floor. It's simply luxurious.
There's a big difference between feeling lonely and feeling okay with solitude, according to Dehd. The twangy Chicago three-piece sings about the journey of dissociating the need for somebody else to make you happy, and simply existing and thriving on your own, on "Loner." The guitars teeter the song into melancholy, but Emily Kempf's rollicking voice ensures there's levity to be found in your own company. She sings, "Want nothing more than to be a loner," and while it can be a journey for some to become comfortable with the idea, the group sure makes it sound liberating.
"Kawasaki Backflip," Dogleg
Go on: Absolutely lose yourself to this hardcore emo rager. Like, let your limbs flail and head bang, and maybe even attempt to do a backflip. In this song from Michigan DIY four-piece Dogleg, the drums are fast, the guitars are fast, and altogether sound incapable of ever slowing down, especially in the emotional intensity that carries it all through. "Will you be the fire or the wind," frontman Alex Stoitsiadis repeats, like an invitation to join him in igniting some sort of change, and never turning back. With the power this track has, it's hard to believe anyone would choose to be anything but the fire.
"Physical," Dua Lipa
This year, Dua Lipa seemingly wanted to imagine what might play at Studio 54 if it were still open, or offer up something to flood the speakers at roller rinks. The British singer turned her trajectory towards straight-up disco music, and in result she sparkled all her own like a damn disco ball. "Physical," one of the many great songs from her fantastic Future Nostalgia, is a dance floor opus. Her smoky voice is commanding, telling you to "get physical," and the pulsating beat is incredibly stylish; this is no Olivia Newton John workout track.
"Marigolds," Early Eyes
Everyone could use a pick-me-up lately, and no band is better to do it than Minneapolis-based indie pop band Early Eyes. The five-piece is a bundle of joy whose jazz-influenced songs have given their local scene something to boogie to, and with the release of "Marigolds," they should absolutely be on your radar, too. The upbeat song laced with horns and nimble bass and percussion follows vocalist Jake Berglove's ponderous fumbling in how to "feel okay." It's never an easy journey to come into your own and "nobody does this gracefully," but Early Eyes has the ability to make you feel like if you just loosened up a bit, it'd be a piece of cake.
"Heavy Balloon," Fiona Apple
When Fiona Apple won the VMA for Best New Artist in 1997, she declared the world was bullshit in her acceptance speech. The memorable rant shook audiences at the time, but it turns out that she wasn't totally wrong; it just took time for everybody else to face that realization. Over 20 years later, and after an eight-year hiatus, the famed singer-songwriter still sees the toughness of life and womanhood, and the way she sings about them on her acclaimed Fetch the Bolt Cutters is as raw as ever. One of its stand-out tracks, "Heavy Balloon," is about battling depression and how unyielding it can feel to try to lift yourself up while feeling pushed down time and time again. The sparse yet resounding percussion makes the song itself feel weighted, and, boy, does she sound angry when she sings, "I spread like strawberries / I climb like peas and beans / I've been sucking it in so long / That I'm bursting at the seams," but only because she's still willing to face those set backs head on. It's something of an inspiration.
"Sunblind," Fleet Foxes
As an essential indie folk band, Fleet Foxes have become coded as woodsy music to cozy up to once the weather gets crisp, you throw on a sweater, and have an itch to go leaf peeping. This year, they gave people exactly what they wanted, dropping a wonderful, autumnal record right on the fall equinox. "Sunblind" is the center of the album—literally being its works cited page as songwriter Robin Pecknold lists his influences, from late icons like Elliot Smith to recently lost artists including David Berman and Richard Swift, that helped influence this song and others. It's an homage that gleams on its own, though (even if Pecknold feels he'd be remiss if he didn't apologize to Hendrix for falling flat). His voice and the acoustic guitars feel warm like a crepuscular setting sun, and that chorus ("I'm gonna swim for a week in Warm American Water with dear friends / swimming high on a lea in Eden / Running all of the leads you've been leaving") inevitably churns up your own memories of spending time with your own favorite records with friends.
"In The Party," Flo Milli
It should come as no surprise that this song from 20-year-old Alabama rapper Flo Milli, which actually dropped in 2019 before it was officially released on this year's Ho, why is you here?, was a smash on TikTok. It's all about playing with the idea of having a bad bitch attitude and running with it—and starting off with the line, "Dicks up when I step in the party," only to up the ante even more after it, the up-and-comer definitely delivers that surefire confidence that makes you do a double take and believe in her power to take anyone's man. This is no viral one-hit-wonder, though. You can hear in her bars, or what she calls "Flo Milli shit," that she's fearless in what she does and just getting the party started on what's likely to be a hell of a no-fucks-given good time.
"Solitaires (feat. Travis Scott)," Future
The title of his surprise 21-track epic says it all: Trap star Future is High Off Life. Even amidst the dumpster fire that is 2020, the guy can't complain, boasting about his lavish lifestyle with Travis Scott on his album stand-out "Solitaires." In fact, not even the pandemic can hold him down, name-dropping the coronavirus on the track! For three-and-a-half minutes, the Wizrd puts you in a trance and lets you revel in that luxury, with the mellow beat and his and Scott's droning taking you there. Like his "solitary diamonds, solitary jewels," it's a shining little gem and a welcomed outlook from the rapper who essentially paved the way for depressing trap. Certainly, it makes that case that, yeah, quarantine wouldn't be so bad if you were one of the biggest rappers in the world.
"My Name is Dark – Art Mix," Grimes
It's become almost frightening to listen to Grimes' end of the world masterpiece Miss Anthropocene since it was released in February, considering it dropped just a month out from when the pandemic hit the US, which has at times eerily feel like the end. Songs like "My Name is Dark," which play into the album's concept of succumbing to AI technology and letting the world go up in flames, feel especially dark—but it's just that much more potent. Drawing from nu metal, the screams and screeches in the song's production sound like the final moments of an annihilation, and Grimes' girlish voice tricks you into thinking this is a fun pop song when she's really relaying snarky remarks from our new overlords (or whatever). There's a part where she hisses, "The angel of death, she said to God, 'Un-fuck the world, un-fuck the world, you stupid girl," and Grimes and her AI persona WarNymph make that rallying cry in the song pretty damn convincing.
"I Know Alone," HAIM
HAIM doesn't necessarily sound like the HAIM we've grown to love on this song off Women in Music Pt. III. On the track, the sister trio exchanges funk for dance to create one of their most electronica-heavy songs ever. The production is spritely and scattered, bouncing manically in opposition to the lyrics that delicately detail an all-consuming loneliness ("I know alone like no one else does"). It may seem dismal, but the hushed way Danielle relays her words paired with the playful production invites one to think that the song could also be about finding comfort in how we each cope—because, in truth, we all "know alone" in one way or another. As many of us are isolated right now, dealing with the current crisis on our own, it's the perfect song to illuminate some sort of goodness that's to come.
"Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris," Hayley Williams (feat. Boy Genius)
When Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams announced her debut solo album Petals for Armor, it was highly anticipated enough as is. Then she announced it included a collaboration with boygenius, the supergroup from Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, and the buzz grew even louder. The result might not be what you'd expect from either artist, but is somehow even more beautiful. The gentle song uses a garden as a metaphor for femininity—both how lovely it can be and the way it can be picked apart—and through gorgeous harmonies and the way its strings crescendo, it manages to capture the understated strength of something that's soft. Before the track flutters out, Williams sings, "I myself was a wilted woman, drowsy in a dark room / Forgot my roots, now watch me bloom." "Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris" is proof she's already flowered.
"Good Bad Times," Hinds
This number from Spanish four-piece Hinds may be about "bad times," but it's a swaying pop song that actually sounds like a lovely time. It's a dichotomy the extremely charismatic indie rock band has mastered, making loud, buoyant garage music that's often about loneliness and anxiety. "Good Bad Times" sees them move towards funky indie pop as they incorporate lush synths and glossy guitars, arriving at a chorus of their voices echoing one another, pining for something more. It slips in between English and Spanish, like how the song itself is a back-and-forth in a relationship that might not be as ideal as it seems. It's the kind of glistening number you should twirl around to once you take off those rose-colored shades yourself and need a little pick-me-up.
"Sword," IAN SWEET
"Sword" is a shimmering dream-pop song oozing with lavish synths, but it cuts like a knife—and it cuts deep. On the song from IAN SWEET, the LA-by-way-of-Boston group, singer Jilian Medford comes to realize that her body is autonomous and strong, after being led to believe it was something she needed to fight against ("How do I start to feel less like a deadly weapon / After you made me believe / I have the sharpest edges"). "My body is a sword, it gets sharper when it gets ignored," she repeats. It may be less rock influenced than the indie group's past releases, but it's got a razor-sharp edge in its vulnerability.
"Ghost of Soulja Slim," Jay Electronica
Few fans are as faithful as Jay Electronica's. The New Orleans-based MC and J Dilla collaborator has been abuzz and supported by JAY-Z ever since he dropped a mixtape on MySpace in 2007, but never got around to releasing an official record until this year's A Written Testimony. It makes sense that fans would hold out for Electronica since he's proven to be one of rap's most overlooked greats, but it's funny that they kept their faith considering much of his record is powered by rhymes about his own religion. One of the album's most impeccable songs, "Ghosts of Soulja Slim," is a joint with JAY and explores the relationship between Electronica's identity and Islam. Each bar is more impressive than the next ("My ancestors took old food, made soul food / Jim Crow's a troll too, he stole the soul music / That's the blood that goes through me, so you assumin' / I could never sell my soul, they sold they soul to me") as the two rappers illustrate their lexical deftness and depth of soul.
"Soul Control," Jessie Ware
The fantasy of being dressed to the nines, making eyes at a a beautiful strangers across a disco-ball lit club, and meeting them at the center of the dance floor—it lives in British singer-songwriter Jessie Ware's "Soul Control" where it transcends fantasy to feel like an exciting possibility. A nü disco track that relishes in the camp of its own sound with decadent, throwback synths, uninhabited lyrics, and high energy, it's pure pop ecstasy. Ware sings about having a connection so strong with someone that it takes over their soul, which sounds about right, since this beat is irresistible. Like some sort of disco sorceress, one listen and Ware could put you in a trance to get glammed up and ready to boogie, if only for the thrill of it all.
"House Warning Party," Joyce Manor
This song from beloved pop-punk mainstays Joyce Manor isn't necessarily new. It's actually quite old, being a more than 10-year-old fan favorite that the group sometimes roars out at live gigs to open up the pit. The oldie had yet to be officially released until this year, though, on a compilation of old recordings made new. It just passes the one-minute mark (typical for the band), but bursting with the energy of the group when they were young punks still playing house shows across Southern California. With lines like, "Your dad was a cop / I bet his dad was a cop / Yeah, but you're no cop, you see / No, to me you are the Great Wall of China," and raging guitars, it's like an anarchist teenage dream. Even as the band and their fanbase ages, we could all use that unrestrained energy.
"Darkness," Katie Dey
There's a meme on the sad-core spaces of the internet that contrasts "the rewards of being loved" with "the mortifying ordeal of being known"—which is to say that being vulnerable is terrifying, but so is letting somebody love all of the parts of you, and that comes with a whole lot of beauty. On "Darkness," a song re-released on Australian experimentalist Katie Dey's 2020 album Mydata, Dey is the one yearning to know everything there is to know of her lover, even the darkest parts. Otherworldly strings and synths offset the lyrics sung in Dey's signature crackled voice ("If I could just reflect all of your self destruction and complacence"), and resemble heavenly bodies she presumably passes as a "far out satellite" listening for her loved one's "brain waves" before they blast off into the darkness together. It's unique and earnest, but ultimately we all crave somebody to fight through the black holes in the galaxies of our lives with.
R&B artist Kehlani has been the center of media frenzies for dating basketball stars like Kyrie Irving and being cheated on by major rappers like YG, but don't let that distract you from her sad, sexy songs about heartbreak. The opener of her star-making record It Was Good Until It Wasn't is called "Toxic," a word people tend to throw around when talking about both truly unhealthy circumstances and relationships gone sour that might've benefited from a little self-reflection. It's something Kehlani recognizes, bringing heaps of vulnerability to this stripped-back song, looking to herself and her lover's manipulation as to why she needs to sober up from a relationship that was clouded by Don Julio and sex. It doesn't glorify the toxicity, though, those 808s and the sound of her voice mixed with Ty Dolla $ign's are full of wallowing. The transparency of her lyrics are so potent, she'll have you grieving too.
"Hannah Sun," Lomelda
Lomelda's "Hannah Sun" is seeped in a blue reflection, the kind that comes when you're still mourning a relationship. The wistful song from singer-songwriter Hannah Read, who performs under the moniker Lomelda, finds her folky, wavering voice sorting through the regrets and goodness of what once was ("Glad you held her, glad you held him / Glad you held me too, though I didn't know how to"). But just when you think the song is bound to wrap up as a somber indie ballad, a glimmer of a synthesizer introduces its final act: Read's directive to herself, "Hannah, do no harm." An acoustic guitar brings a lightness, and it seems as though she is ready for the sun to set on the sadness about what's been lost, and look forward to the sunrise of a new day.
"Rain On Me," Lady Gaga, feat. Ariana Grande
Could there be a more perfect pop pairing than Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande? Their collab, "Rain On Me," for Gaga's long-awaited return to dance pop Chromatica, is almost reason for any duets in the works to be scrapped because no one will be able to top this. While the two occupy different lanes of pop, they're longtime admirers of each other's work, two of the biggest divas in the game, and known forces of good—meaning, the result is obviously a delightful rhapsody about persevering through personal hardship ("I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive"). Gaga collaborator and major producer BloodPop sprinkles down a dance track that eventually hits like lightning, and their two voices are the claps of thunder. There's no way Ari and Gaga's joy won't wash over you too.
"Nada," Lido Pimienta
On "Nada," Canadian-Colombian singer Lido Pimienta sings, "Soy mujer y llevo, el dolor adentro" ("I'm a woman and carrying pain is what I do"). The lyric could take you out with the punch of its vigor. The succinct line encapsulates something all too familiar for women, and on the transfixing song that pulls from indigenous elements, the rising Latin star couldn't have articulated these feelings better. Backed by the layered production, it's as if generations that came before her support her as she confidently iterates how fearless she is. There's a beauty in her confrontation.
"I'm Sorry," Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert's spaceship officially blasted off this year. The hardcore-influenced, anime-loving rapper's sci-fi-themed sophomore album Eternal Atake arrived as a surprise release in March—dodging meteorites of label disputes and personal delays to finally satellite this bizarro rap to patient fans down on Earth. One of the muted numbers on the record, "I'm Sorry," runs in a different lane than usual, but it's a sweet rap ballad that sees the hip-hop artist as a boy band heartthrob worth falling for. His typically quick bars are turned into a sing-song rasp as he sincerely apologizes to all the pain he's caused a lover; so figure it's destined to become a sad boy anthem. Utilizing scattered but subtle video game music-inspired production, it's a song that sounds like it was meant to soundtrack a fan-made compilation of clips from a romance anime, and that's a very good thing.
"Good News," Mac Miller
Late indie rap champion Mac Miller's first posthumous release "Good News" arrived early in 2020, about a year and a half since the recording artist unexpectedly died of a drug overdose at 26-years-old in 2018. Off his record Circles, the song is a quieted pondering of trying to relieve himself of negativity, delivered in the flavor of his early discography's lo-fi sound. It feels particularly somber now, knowing the artist was continually searching for a remedy to his sadness. With its minimal but gentle qualities and Miller's familiar sing-song rasp, the song sounds like the goodness he was looking for.
"Bloody Valentine," Machine Gun Kelly
Is it 2020 or 2005? This song from Machine Gun Kelly would have you believe it's the latter, considering it sounds like it should've been the biggest song on TRL's music video countdown for weeks and the song blasting on every scene kid's Myspace page—which is the highest of compliments! MGK's been playing with hardcore aesthetics for years, but all the (former?) rapper needed was Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker backing him on production and percussion to live out his rockstar dream, and fulfill the Myspace generation's nostalgia, with seriously solid pop punk tracks on this year's Tickets to My Downfall like "Bloody Valentine." Barker's influence is obvious, this one being fast, and like a love child between Blink and The Killers with its perfect combination of synths and guitar. Sounding like a teenaged fantasy, the song's only flaw is the impossibility of getting to rock out to it after seeing your name on your crush's Top 8.
"Savage (Remix)," Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé
When the opportunity arises, Beyoncé loves to flex how good she is at rapping. While Queen Bey may not be a rapper first and foremost, she is Queen Bey and can definitely spit some bars whenever she sees fit—like on the remix of Megan Thee Stallion's hit "Savage." The release itself was a delightful surprise, but what's even more unexpected is how the two flip the song entirely instead of just adding a verse here or there. The simple piano beat remains the same, but the result of the two Houston icons joining forces is pure bliss as Bey hops back on the rap saddle to deliver some confident, streamlined verses. At once point she touts, "I'm a bad bitch, she's a savage, no comparison here," and it's true—together they sound free to be feeling themselves, and invite you to do the same.
"Night Crawling," Miley Cyrus (feat. Billy Idol)
2020 was the year that Miley Cyrus became a certified rocker, mullet included. The shock value and persona was always there—the music just had to catch up, and it did on this year's Plastic Hearts with great results. Her collaboration with punk hero Billy Idol is an utter pop-rock blast. It resembles an '80s hit that would have gone on to become a go-to sing-along at seedy bars everywhere. In the synths and powerhouse of a chorus, there's danger at every turn—but the kind that's seductive enough that you'd follow it down whatever dark alley it takes you. We should be forever grateful these two icons teamed up.
"Fall in Love," Moaning
Falling for someone is terrifying. It's called falling for a reason: opening yourself up to someone else and the fear of what could or could not be can feel like pummelling through space without the security of a safe landing. LA DIY scene staples Moaning sweetly ponder this on their song "Fall in Love" off this year's Uneasy Laughter. They earnestly ask, "Am I loveless? / Or just fearful? / Do I want this or should I carry on? / How do you carry on?" over repetitive, militaristic drums and a dreamy arrangement of lucid keys and guitars. The trio crafts incredibly anxious post-punk songs, but where their great, understated debut carried a concerned sense of urgency, that jittery energy has turned into an embrace of vulnerability. This song has the ecstasy of a new wave hit, and makes you believe it's okay to take that jump. You won't always crash down.
"Double Dare," Momma
What does a Saturday morning in summertime sound like? This song—that's what waking up to sunlight gleaming in and a day full of possibility sounds like. From hazy alt-rock LA duo Momma, "Double Dare" is a lovely track that feels zoned out in its sunny guitars, but totally tapped into the experience of girlhood and all of its dichotomies ("Dressed in my Sunday best / Sucker punch right into a picket fence"). Imagery of girls up to no good and breaking hearts just for kicks run in tandem to the hyperbolic lyrics and repetition of "double dare"; it's youth bottled up in the sweetest way.
"Bless Me," Moses Sumney
On the elegant, expansive "Bless Me" off his double album græ, stylish North Carolina singer-songwriter Moses Sumney manages to bless each one of us. The track is sparse with glittering percussion to allow the real godly quality of his sound, his magnificent voice, to reach ethereal heights. About his relationship being through with someone who was somewhat of an angel, the way the song crescendos to sound like a sprawling opus of their time spent together. "You're going nowhere with me," he repeats—and who knows where that is for each party involved, but his loving voice makes you believe it will still be somewhere beautiful. He may be singing of an ending, but the song exalts hope.
"I Am King," Nasty Cherry
Nasty Cherry is the pet project of British pop star Charli XCX, who essentially manufactured the band by hand-picking the four women in the group who she now mentors and houses on her label. One of Charli's collaborators, Dylan Brady of 100 Gecs, hops on as producer to utterly blow out this pop rock track in a way that only his frantic, computerized production can and turn it into a jam about, well, getting yourself off ("I'm addicted, hooked on it when I touch myself"). Based around a blaring guitar riff you could imagine obliterating your ears live and vocalist Gabbriette Bechtel's high-pitched bubblegum voice unassumingly singing vulgar lyrics, "I Am King" is like the OG '70s rock girl group The Runaways meets something off the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack, ie. it's a blast.
"Me & You Together Song," The 1975
You know those songs that immediately make your mind "cut to" a sequence of memories or even a daydream of what-could-bes that play like a film reel? Well, if there ever was a song to accompany a treacly compilation of clips of a couple being in love at a carnival, running through city streets, and laying in parks, it would be British alt rock band The 1975's song from their 2020 album Notes on a Conditional Form. "Me & You Together Song" takes you there in its '90s pop rock guitars and the looped vocals of frontman Matty Healy singing, "I've been in love with her for ages." The song sounds like a fantasy—because it is, chronicling a relationship of unrequited love with a friend—but Healy's mindless lulling and the sparkling production lets you live there.
"Hand Crushed By Mallet (Remix)" by 100 gecs (feat. Fall Out Boy, Craig Owens, and Nicole Dollanganger)
Laura Les and Dylan Brady's electronic duo 100 gecs caused a rift in 2019 when they blew up in indie circles. Considering they sounded like a bunch of malfunctioning hardware, you either got them or didn't. Part of their appeal—aside from being fun as hell—was their sounds-blaring, snarky pop punk sensibility. They played right into that on one of the new versions of their song "Hand Crushed By Mallet" off this year's remix of their 2019 debut, wrangling pop punk mainstay Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, frontman of the hardcore group Chiodos Craig Owens, and Tumblr-core gothic act Nicole Dollanganger as features. That Stump roar opening the track couldn't be more glorious, and Owens' verses basically scream, "Open up the pit!" It's a damn shame we won't be able to mosh to this one for awhile.
"Long Road Home," Oneohtrix Point Never
Even if you aren't familiar with Oneohtrix Point Never, the electronic project of Daniel Lopatin, you've probably heard his music before. He's a frequent collaborator of filmmakers the Safdie Brothers, and his score helped establish the worlds of their films Good Time and Uncut Gems. The veteran producer inhabits a world of his own, though, creating soundscapes that are abstract and scattered, but transcendent just the same. "Long Road Home" is of the finest examples, with heavenly strings and featured vocals from Caroline Polachek meshed with bouncing synthesizers, like they're traversing through some sort of unfamiliar, digitized landscape. The song itself is a mysterious journey, too: Where it goes keeps you guessing, but the whole journey is riveting.
"On the Floor," Perfume Genius
Having a crush can be agonizing: The yearning, the projecting, the impatience. All of that anguish is the subject of indie pop artist Perfume Genius's latest single, taking the form of a dancey bop. On the song off his Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, Mike Hadreas, the brainchild behind the project, sings about rolling on the floor, wondering when his feelings for somebody will fade away ("How long 'til this heart isn't mine?"). Paired with a funky bass, "On the Floor" thrives in the erratic, making it so you can't help but move—you may as well roll around on the ground with Hadreas. "Take this wildness away," he bursts while the track ascends into something of a hymn, and as he's known to make tender music about queer relationships, Perfume Genius captures that wretched drama of pining.
"Garden Song," Phoebe Bridgers
Isn't it a pretty image to close your eyes and envision a garden that's lush and blooming? Maybe it's a garden that hasn't been planted yet, but someday it'll exist in a patch of your yard and be full of life. Emo folk wonderkind Phoebe Bridgers sings about such a place, drawn from dreams and ideas about her hometown and the future that have evolved as she's grown older on "Garden Song," from one of this year's bests, Punisher. The track is stunning, Bridgers' wispy voice anchoring its simplicity with her narrative lyrics. From memories of childhood, she draws seeds to plant a vision for tomorrow—and even as it sounds soft, there's weeds in that beauty forming vines around her changing values and the ideas of comfort she was once taught. Words like "visionary" and comparisons to names like Joni Mitchell and Joan Didion have been thrown at Bridgers, and songs like this, where she churns poetry out of quarter-life crises, is precisely why.
"DND," Polo G
Last year, 21-year-old Chicago drill rapper Polo G made a Hot 100 hit out of a song with a chorus that lays out in the verse, "We come from poverty, man, we ain't have a thing." Now, he's one of the hottest rising artists in the game, and his often mournful, earnest music is where he continues to explore the immense pain he and his community feel due to violence and economic hardship. "DND" sounds like it could be another hit with its piano track souped-up with a weaving, heavy beat, but even in a song relaying his quick ascension, he refuses to back away from how his experience continues to affect him even while sitting on top ("They killing kids / wonder why the summer's so cold"). It's equally moving as it is fierce hip-hop.
"Do U Wanna," Porches
NYC-based indie synth-pop artist Porches (AKA Aaron Maine) makes music that feels like it lives in the feeling of leeting out a heavy sigh and laughing to yourself after a long cry. Maine's production is liquidized and danceable, but he's constantly singing about navigating melancholy. He recently dropped "Do U Wanna," the lead single off this year's Ricky Music, which follows the internal struggle of who you are when you're surrounded by others and who you become when once everybody else goes home and you're left alone. The minimal, slow-jam-like production zones in on the song's intrapersonal lyrics ("I'm so happy I could cry") and makes you feel like the only one still on the dance floor. It lives in this moment, fading out before concluding what to do with these feelings. This is peak Porches.
"IPHONE," Rico Nasty
Rapper Rico Nasty made one of her wildest songs yet with "IPHONE." Produced by Dylan Brady of the unhinged duo 100 Gecs (who she previously collaborated with on the their "Ringtone" remix), "IPHONE" catapults her intense hip-hop delivery into a hyperpop space. It goes as hard as a typical Rico Nasty release—except here she sounds like an AI superstar. Alternating between an auto-tuned rap chorus and melodic verses over robotic, glitzy production, the track feels as if the fashionable recording artist is taking us to a new dimension. It's the banger of the 22nd century.
"Who's Gonna Save U Now," Rina Sawayama
Japan-born, London-based recording artist Rina Sawayama is pop in 2020 at its finest. Rather than boxing herself into one sound, it's as if each song she releases is an experiment on genre, led by her command over songwriting, deciding between hard rock, nu metal, EDM, or disco, whatever she feels like that day. On "Who's Gonna Save U Now," off her debut album SAWAYAMA, she jumps into glam rock. It's one of the finest examples of the breadth of her bold vocals, comparable to Lady Gaga's guttural pipes. The song literally opens to the sound of fans chanting her name, and it's no gimmick that the guitars and percussion and produced to sound like she's performing in front of a stadium. The song is simply a glimpse into the future, and proof you should start cheering her name, too.
"TKN," Rosalía (feat. Travis Scott)
"TKN" is music in 2020 at its most pollinated. Spanish force Rosalía, who has blown up in recent years for putting a modern flair on flamenco music, invites hip-hop star Travis Scott onto the track to cultivate an R&B, reggaeton, half-Spanish/half-English banger. The song, co-produced by Rosalía, sways with a dim but flirtatious, beat and the two artists' melodic voices are beguiling as they alternate, and unite with Scott trying his hand at crooning in Spanish. The hint of danger here makes sense, as the lyrics translate to the international pop star equating her crew to being as tight and loyal as a mob family, never breaking the code of "omertà," or the mafia's code of silence. They may not be accepting invitations for any new friends into their mob family right now, but you should absolutely crank this song up with your own because "TKN" is fierce and a great example of what music breaking borders sounds like.
"Walking in the Snow," Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels' RTJ4 couldn't be more pertinent to the times. They dropped their album early amidst the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted across the nation following the killing of George Floyd, and it's blaring protest music, reverberating themes of systemic racism and police brutality. The ferocious "Walking in the Snow" is at the center of it all, with loaded verses like, "You watch the cops choke out a man like me / Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, 'I can't breathe' / And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV / The most you give's a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy." The track is haunting, given its timely lyrics, but the reality is this is a rallying cry for these atrocities and the half-hearted responses that follow to stop and prompt a revolution. You can hear it in El-P, Killer Mike, and featured artist Gangsta Boo's impassioned delivery, which is more than enough to convince you to rise up.
"Is There Something in the Movies?," Samia
NYC-based singer-songwriter Samia elegantly pulls apart the feeling of like you're not enough for the person you love, particularly in her experience when it's been traded for the pursuit of fame, on her song "Is There Something in the Movies?" The emerging artist is a force with her literary songwriting that has a way of piercing your heart—and here, her words blare until they blister. There is a sense of betrayal in her voice as it crescendos, and a bite in her lyrics ("I left you in life cause you don't need my pen to embellish your noteworthy parts / And I only write songs about things that I'm scared of / So here, now you're deathless in art"), but the song is by no means cruel. It's graceful in all of its emotion as a ballad that'll stay pulsing in your capillaries, making your heart ache well after it's through.
"On My Own," Shamir
"I don't mind to live all on my own / And I don't care to feel like I belong / But you always did," singer-songwriter Shamir shouts in the face of fear of abandonment on their independence anthem "On My Own." About reminding yourself that you can and will survive after a relationship ends—this song's for self-sufficient, solitude-loving introverts everywhere, and a bit of inspiration for those who may not trust themselves on their own. The Vegas-raised, Philly-based queer artist's leaping voice and the way they turns their guitar into a fit of personal paradise is more than enough to do it. The song is a bit more indie rock-focused than their early dance music, but there's enough clanky, fun pop thrown into the mix that'll make this one perfect when you're in need of a solo bash.
"Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes," Soccer Mommy
Soccer Mommy, the stage name for Nashville-originated singer/guitarist Sophie Allison, is an indie rock gem whose songwriting is so heartfelt, it can't be understated. The singer largely turned to others for inspiration on her official debut Clean, writing spellbinding lo-fi songs, but on this year's Color Theory with songs like "Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes," she examined the darkness within herself that keeps her feeling blue. Allison's reverb-y guitars sound heavier than ever, drawing from '90s alt rock and mirroring the sick that she feels. That stomach-turning feeling Allison documents in the seven and a half minute track is of her prolonged grief over her mother who's suffered from terminal illness for years—and her words about loss ("Loving you isn't enough / You'll still be deep in the ground when it's done") are so poignant you wish you could hold onto that big, yellow sun as the track fades out to quiet.
Sorry, the London-based group conceived out of the partnership of childhood friends Asha Lorenz and Louis O'Bryen, make indie rock music that sounds hot as hell. It's like most of their songs exists in a French film, sounding somewhat detached and full of attitude but pulsating with desire. Meaning, they're cool in nearly everything they do, although they let their icy exterior melt on their 925 duet "Perfect," about ceaselessly adoring someone even when they're not worth it. Their back-and-forth banter and the guitar's uneven pace is tense and dangerous. Although the relationship is unstable, you can get a sense in the song's unbridled devotion why the two return to each other's arms—and why Sorry is a band worth adoring.
"Bad Decisions," The Strokes
There's a certain feeling you want from a Strokes song. It's like drunkenly moseying home from a night out with your friends where even if your personal life is shitty, somehow everything still feels possible and all that matters is now. You got this from their original releases back when they were a buzzy New York rock band, and you get it from this track off 2020's The New Abnormal. The melody of "Bad Decisions" mirrors Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself" and there's an '80s vibe throughout the song as frontman Julian Casablancas laments about ruining a relationship. It can be exciting when a reliable garage rock group experiments, but after years of almost exclusively festival dates and a prolonged new, full-length release, there's a comfort in hearing The Strokes return to what made them the icons in the first place.
"America," Sufjan Stevens
Indie savior Sufjan Stevens once told stories entrenched in Americana with records like his breakthrough Illinois (although, we are still waiting on those promised records for 48 more states). Now, on the epic closer "America" off his record The Ascension, he's singing, "Don't do to me what you did to America," as if it's a plea to the heavens above. At more than 12 and a half minutes, the song exhausts the United States' complex, disastrous history of exploitation and displacement in its frigid beat conjured up on a drum machine. Coming from someone who worships the American dream, or at least the mythology behind it, the song is explosive as Stevens forces himself to accept the America he believes in is no more—or maybe never was—and needs more work than ever ("I have loved you / I have grieved / I'm ashamed to admit it but I no longer believe"). It's something many Americans are wrestling with, or have for awhile, but hints that there's no reason we can't burn it down and start anew.
"Breathe Deeper," Tame Impala
Tame Impala brainchild Kevin Parker has become a pop polyglot, and his long-awaited album The Slow Rush is a perfectionist amalgamation of the psychedelic musician's career and sonic touchstones. The Aussie artist has come a long way from recording guitar heavy records isolated in the Outback to producing major rappers, and splashes of each facet of his taste are baked into his latest work. "Breathe Deeper" is one of the jazzier entries; it's over six minutes of R&B mixed with flashy keys that might've played in a trendy '70s cocktail lounge. Parker's been singing about his anxieties over existential questions forever, just like he's doing with passing time on The Slow Rush, but on this track he sounds at ease even as he begs us to believe in his self-assurance. Sometimes you just got to "breathe a little deeper," and here it sounds like that end result is delight.
"Invisible String," Taylor Swift
Who could detail a better metaphor of soul mates tied together with an invisible string than love song songwriting supreme Taylor Swift? She explores the idea on this track off her "indie" album folklore that was born out of quarantine, secrecy, and collaborations with The National's Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver—but she does so applying all of her typical Swiftian tricks that make it simply beguiling. It's threaded together with narrative, literary references, and verses that pick at the lore around her own personal life like the stunning, "Cold was the steel of my axe to grind for the boys who broke my heart / Now I send their babies presents." Referencing the final line of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, she sings, "Isn't it just so pretty to think all along there was some invisible string tying you to me?" imploring the latest of her own iconic lines and an image so romantic it stays tied around your heartstrings.
"Bumming Me Out," THICK
Three-piece punk band THICK have been stomping on sexism with steel toe boots for as long as they've been coming up in the Brooklyn scene. They make abrasive tracks that tell mansplainers everywhere to shut the hell up, and loud pop punk songs that try to make light of how defeating young adulthood can feel. This all culminates on their track from their debut album, 5 Years Behind, "Bumming Me Out," which opens with the very appropriate whine, "Never knew I'd be so tired fighting for what I believe." You can feel how agonizing their uphill battles are in heir school girl harmonies, but as the guitars punch through, you can tell they're not worn out yet. The song is so catchy that it doesn't bum you out in the slightest—THICK inspires you to join their fight instead.
"Dragonball Durag," Thundercat
Funk experimentalist Thundercat sounds like an absolute goofball on his song "Dragonball Durag," and it's amazing. Singing about a certain sexual prowess he feels while wearing his Dragonball Z printed durag, accompanied by a swanky beat, it almost sounds like it could be a song in one of the Lonely Island's Saturday Night Live shorts. That's meant as a compliment, though, because the '90s R&B-ish track, Kamasi Washington sax feature, and witty, playful lines make it sound so good. The renowned soul artist, singing about trying to smash despite being a gamer covered in cat hair, is somehow able to make corniness sexy. It must be the powers of the durag.
"Bullfrog Choirs," Told Slant
It's a profound feeling when you're young and realize the world is at your fingertips, if that's what you make of it. "Bullfrog Choirs" from Told Slant, the pensive lo-fi project from Felix Walworth, explores that realization. A folky number that constantly crescendos, it's as if it's meant to soundtrack the final scene in a mumblecore film—when the protagonist decides to be brave and finally leave their small hometown to explore the world or follow their dreams elsewhere. "Will I gnaw at this bone that I am alone," they lull, instilling the possibility that your life belongs to you and no one else. It's a tender song that'll make you feel its sentiment deep in your heart.
"Lost in the Country," Trace Mountains
In 2018, the lo-fi emo band LVL UP disbanded. It was a huge bummer, considering they were one of the best groups of the contemporary emo revival. Since then, members of the group went on to form their own projects—and thank goodness they did because singer Dave Benton's latest work under the moniker Trace Mountains is the finest kind of muted indie rock. On "Lost in the Country," his album's title track, he takes you on the road as he chronicles the ups and downs of touring life as a musician and, well, life as is. The driving guitars wind like his van might've across the nation, and despite feeling lost ("And the soul in my heart is always hungry / And I'm lost in the deep wide country"), he sounds like he's in the midst of a journey of being found.
Waxahatchee (AKA Katie Crutchfield) makes indie folk that's so beautifully written and sounds so intimate, it makes you feel like you're sitting with her on her Kansas City porch, engaging in a deep conversation. "Lilacs" off her gorgeous album Saint Cloud is an example of the way her songwriting blossoms. It's a twangy, alt-country diddy and her trembling voice grows verbose as she wrestles with her own self-doubts and reminds herself how freeing it can be to fall for yourself ("And if my bones are made of delicate sugar / I won't end up anywhere good without you / I need your love too"). It's somehow lovelier than lilacs smell.
"After Hours," The Weeknd
The Weeknd's After Hours isn't just the best album from the Toronto R&B artist-turned-pop star in years, it's all of the luxurious makings of an iconic pop record, and just so happens to be bleak as fuck. On the title track and for much of the record, Abel is back on his bullshit as a man full of ennui whose only source of relief is partying and women, who he subsequently treats as trash. "After Hours" elevates that pain to something cinematic, like he's finally coming around to be apologetic to his lover for their toxic relationship at the penultimate moment in a high-stakes thriller. There's an intensity to the production that starts out minimal and tight, but becomes balmy and vibrates with Tesfaye's crooning. The track is simply excellent, and based on how vulnerable he sounds as it fades out, if this were a movie, you can be sure he'd get the girl.
"Blue Comanche," Westerman
Will Westerman's voice could guide a meditation. It's as if whenever the London-based pop experimentalist sings, he creates a pool—you know, the kind of spring where the water looks exceptionally blue and the surface resembles glass—and you become submerged in it. One of his most entrancing releases off this year's Your Hero Is Not Dead is "Blue Comanche," where he invites us to "turn back around" before global warming obliterates the natural world. The way his voice turns to a hum in time with an acoustic guitar and synthesizers play, the song sounds quieting like twilight, as if it's anticipating the sunset of Earth as we know it. Music about the climate crisis has increasingly become a trend as the situation grows more dire—but as many works sound apocalyptic or call for a state of emergency, Westerman's takes a loving step back to reflect on the bounty of beauty we can't risk losing.
"WHEN I GROW UP," Yaeji
Combining vibey hip-hop bass with experimental dance sounds derived from a global education growing across the US, Seoul, and in the Soundcloud community online, Korean-American electronic artist Yaeji makes music that you can imagine bumps through the speakers of a Brooklyn warehouse party full of fashion scene kids any given weekend. Luckily, songs like the new "WHEN I GROW UP" off her mixtape WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던 can mentally take you there right now. Her quick delivery of both Korean and English in a slinky, whispered rap is intoxicating enough, but the muted beat that loops her voice into an instrument is stylish and enjoyably cute. It's what you want out of a Yaeji song, and a great track to help turn your living room into a club when you're stuck dancing at home.
"Gospel for a New Century," Yves Tumor
In "Gospel for a New Century," Yves Tumor ushers in a future for a new kind of rock star. The Tennessee-raised, Italy-based artist is a known genre-defying experimentalist, but on this track off their excellent Heaven to a Tortured Mind, it's as if they're toying with the bounds of rock music and bringing it into a space where rock isn't dead anymore—it's exceedingly interesting. The song is produced to sound like an oldie with Hendrix-like funkiness, but the way horns and percussion bounce off one another and Tumor's swanky drawl seduces, you can tell that this is the new sound.
"Guilty Conscience," 070 Shake
If it weren't for her sing-song hip-hop vocals that sound so present, you could easily mistake this track from New Jersey-bred rapper/singer 070 Shake for an '80s synth-pop hit. The synths drip in sorrow, as the recording artist sings not only about finding her partner cheating, but feeling like she's drowning in guilt for them not discovering the same about her ("I caught you but you never caught me / I was sitting here waiting on karma / There goes my guilty conscience"). It's gauzy and grand, like the power ballads it draws from—so much so that you could nearly imagine Danielle Balbuena performing this one along a beach out of a vintage MTV video. The song lets you wade in her emotions, until inevitably your own pull you under.
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